4.11.2014

How Open-Minded Are We Really



http://yliapu.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451607369e2017c36d206b2970b-piThis is advice I heartily co-sign on, from Bret Victor:

It's tempting to judge what you read:

I agree with these statements, and I disagree with those.



However, a great thinker who has spent decades on an unusual line of thought cannot induce their context into your head in a few pages. It's almost certainly the case that you don't fully understand their statements.



Instead, you can say:



I have now learned that there exists a worldview in which all of these statements are consistent.



And if it feels worthwhile, you can make a genuine effort to understand that entire worldview. You don't have to adopt it. Just make it available to yourself, so you can make connections to it when it's needed.

We all say we’re open-minded but we’re really not.  I’m not even talking about being willing to fundamentally change your opinion on something.  I'm talking about being willing to get into the perspective of someone else so that we can understand not only what they believe but why.

You're nodding your head and saying, well of course I do that.  But do you?  Think back to an article that you read or a conversation you had, in which you found yourself thinking that the other person was either ignorant (they don't know what they're talking about) or evil (they know exactly what they're talking about and they mean ill of others).  Maybe you've even called - inside your head or to your friends - these other people ignorant or evil.

This happens all the time.  Democrats and Republicans, Christians and non-Christians, Americans and non-Americans, and the list goes on.  If we are of a certain position on tax reform, or abstinence programs, or gay marriage, or school choice, and we hear something that outrages us from the other side, we are quick to tar the other side as ignorant or evil.  Surely they must be one or the other, because surely the right opinion on these subjects is our opinion, and anyone who disagree must either not be as informed or has a malicious motivation. 

Bret Victor says whoa - spend a minute walking in the shoes of the other side.  Understand the internal logic that leads to their conclusion.  You don't have to be persuaded, but you do have to actually get into another perspective besides your own.  Believe it or not, it is possible for someone to arrive at the opposite conclusion as you, without being either ignorant or evil. 

We who claim to be open-minded yet somehow fail to see how this is possible.  Instead, we tsk-tsk to ourselves and to others who share our worldview.  What does that accomplish?  I hear many people complain about how polarized Congress has become.  Well guess what: we've become equally polarized.  We vilify the other side - again, surely they must be either ignorant or evil because there's no other explanation for how they could've come to the opposite conclusion as I - and huddle with others who agree that the other side can't possibly be right.  

Look, I realize that sometimes we believe that what we believe is so right that we shouldn't let others who are wrong get away with their ignorant or evil views.  I'm not saying be silent when justice demands outcry.  But I think that on most issues that we're so sure about our position, there are actually two (or more) sides to that issue.  And maybe we ought to act like the open-minded people we say we are, and actually take a minute to get into the perspective of someone who believes the opposite of us.  

If you think Obama or Corbett or the unions or the Bible belt or the liberals or the capitalists are ignorant or evil, you're entitled to that opinion.  But, if you don't give them (and those who agree with them) a chance in your head, to figure out the internal logic that results in their positions, then you're being far more close-minded than you'd like to admit. 
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